Understanding Feeding and Eating Problems in Youth with Autism

neurodiversity senseup training sensory affirming Apr 23, 2024
Feeding and Eating Problems in Your with Autism

Today, in keeping with our theme this week on olfaction and gustation (smell and taste) I will summarise a research paper published in 2021 in the Autism journal: Feeding and eating problems in children and adolescents with autism: A scoping review.

The researchers included 34 studies in the review, with a total sample of 4215 autistic participants. Participants were recruited from a variety of sources (e.g. community organizations, autism service organizations, and specialized clinics). Most studies (59%) were conducted in the United States, with some completed in Australia (9%), as well as Italy, England, and Canada (6% each). The earliest study was published in 2004, and over half (56%) were published from 2013 to 2017. participant age ranged from 2 to 28years, although the majority focused on children 8 years of age or younger.

Feeding and eating challenges are prevalent among autistic children, encompassing issues like picky eating, food avoidance, and broader eating disorder symptoms. A recent review sheds light on the complexity and significance of these challenges within the autistic community.

The research aimed to elucidate the nature and scope of feeding and eating problems in youth with autism, exploring potential commonalities among affected individuals. Interestingly, no singular characteristic emerged as a defining factor for those experiencing such difficulties. This finding underscores the diverse presentation of feeding and eating issues within the autism population, transcending the severity of autism symptoms.

While most studies primarily focused on feeding problems such as selective or picky eating, a smaller subset examined eating disorder symptoms like concerns with weight, shape, and body image. Despite this disparity in research focus, some evidence suggests a higher prevalence of eating disorder symptoms among autistic individuals compared to their neurotypical peers.

A crucial observation from the review is the interchangeable use of terms like "feeding" and "eating" problems in literature. The authors emphasise the importance of consistency in terminology to facilitate clearer understanding, identification, and treatment of these challenges. They propose a distinction wherein "feeding problems" denote issues devoid of preoccupation with food, eating, or body image, while "eating problems" encompass such preoccupations.

Furthermore, the review underscores the need to discern whether feeding and eating problems in autism are distinct from core autism traits. Understanding this delineation is pivotal for tailored interventions and support strategies. Caregivers and other adults play a crucial role in addressing these challenges, necessitating their active involvement in the child's treatment journey.


Recommendations include:

  • a thorough evaluation to determine whether behavior represents distinct eating or feeding pathology before attributing symptoms to a person’s autism diagnosis.

  • some youth may require support to manage social difficulties related to their autism symptoms and their feeding or eating problems.

  • is important to consider the role of caregivers in the treatment of feeding or eating problems in autistic youth.

In conclusion, the review underscores the complexity and significance of feeding and eating problems in youth with autism. By elucidating the diverse manifestations of these challenges and proposing a framework for consistent terminology usage, the research lays the groundwork for improved understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of feeding and eating issues within the autism community


Feeding and eating problems in children and adolescents with autism: A scoping review

Jessica Baraskewich, Kristin M von Ranson, Adam McCrimmon, and Carly A McMorris Autism202125:6,1505-1519

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